"No, I'm not."
Nick took his gaze away from the television to glance down at the bunny in his lap. He had to admit, she looked about as calm as she could possibly get right now with her ears lowered behind her head and her lips relaxed. She sat perpendicular to his body with her legs stretched out on the sofa, but she had insisted on staying in his lap rather than sitting beside him. If she weren't practically feather-light the position might have been uncomfortable for him. Even though she seemed to weigh almost nothing, her small weight was reassuring in a way. She was right where she belonged: with him.
"Why are your eyes closed then?" he asked.
"Because I don't want to watch the commercials." She shifted and turned her face into his chest, blocking the bright glare of the TV from her eyes.
"Why not?" he said. "The commercials are the best part. Don't you want to see why you absolutely need new laundry detergent?"
Judy shook her head in the negative. "I like our soap. It smells good on you." As if to prove her statement, she took in a few deep breaths against his chest before exhaling with a little pleased sigh escaping her lips each time. Nick couldn't see her face, but he was pretty sure a smile accompanied those sounds.
"How can you tell? Because most of the time, I smell like rabbit."
"And I smell like fox. So what's the big deal?" Tired or not, she still had speedy comebacks.
"I never said I was complaining...," he muttered. "Besides, I think carrots smell pretty good."
Lifting her head to look up at him, her eyebrows lowered. "Carrots don't really have a smell." Some said carrots smelled like spring, but having grown up around what had to be millions of those things, she knew they had very little scent to them unless they were cooked down in some way.
"Hm... Well, my Carrots does." As the words slipped from his lips, he instantly regretted them. Knowing there was no taking the words back, he visibly cringed at how corny it sounded. His self-embarrassment seemed to be worth it though because she giggled and lowered her head again.
"That was terrible," she said in between light laughs.
"Maybe it was actually funny, but you're so exhausted you wouldn't even know."
"Nice try, Slick. But I'm not that tired."
"So you admit that you're at least a little tired?"
Judy internally cursed his quick-witted brain for catching the technicality in her words. "I never said that."
"You don't have to," he said. "Because I caught you dozing off during the last commercial break."
"There's no proof."
"Fine. Deny it all you want. But if you start falling asleep, we're going to bed." He knew she needed her sleep. Judy would never say so, but she got cranky when she got less than eight hours of rest each night. While cranky Judy could be adorable at times, it certainly wasn't fun to deal with it for the first several hours in the morning when he was still trying to get into the swing of the day.
Judy lifted her head once more to look up into his eyes. With a little smirk, she said, "Challenge accepted."
She turned forward again when the show came back on. Zootopian Idol had always been a favorite of hers. Watching as young contestants tried to impress a panel of judges with their musical talents supplied her with the opportunity to listen to music she hadn't heard before. In addition, it reminded her a little of herself when she was younger. Sometimes she recognized that same drive to accomplish her dreams of becoming a cop in others who were trying to become the next superstar. She found it admirable.
She enjoyed watching the show too much to even do as much as let her eyelids close, so there was no way she could fall asleep. She couldn't...
And then she was. The next thing she knew was the TV was off and the room was bathed in darkness. At some point, Nick had removed her from his lap and laid her down on the sofa.
Judy's eyes began to focus. A dark silhouette stood in front of her where she lay, reaching out to her with both paws. Fear was the first reaction her body could formulate in her drowsy state.
Nick noticed the way she gasped and began to panic when her eyes finally opened. He had to constantly remind himself that rabbits were naturally jumpier than most other mammals. Her response was some type of instinct that carried over from the days when her kind would cower away in burrows in the dirt at night. While she wasn't some fragile creature that he had to tiptoe around, he had accidentally startled her on a few different occasions by unintentionally sneaking up behind her, so he did his best to be cautious around her to avoid scaring her.
"Shh," he shushed, hoping to relax her. "It's just me, it's just me... You're okay."
When his voice met her ears and her eyes focused on him, she eased up and let her eyelids slip closed again. She knew she was safe as long as he was around.
"Come here..." Nick leaned down and scooped her up into his arms, holding her close to his chest so she didn't feel vulnerable to falling. Or anything else for that matter.
Familiar with the routine, Judy lifted her tired arms to sling them around his neck in order to give herself a little more stability. The bunny lazily let her head fall against his collarbone as he carried her off to the bedroom.
This was a common practice for them. Every single night, regardless of the situation, Nick would carry the bunny doe to bed so she didn't have to make the short walk even though she was more than capable of doing so. To an onlooker, it would just look like a cute act between two mammals who were deeply in love. However, the ritual had become extremely important to them since the first time he had lovingly carried her like this.
Even though it never lasted long, the quiet walk supplied them with a simple sense of intimacy that they both deeply craved and yearned for. For her, the feelings of being wanted, protected and loved when he cradled her like this created some unexplainable warmth that spread through her from the ends of her black-tipped ears to the tips of her toes. Nick, on the other paw, enjoyed the silent symbolism it involved; she trusted him to carry her and not let her fall. That seemed simple on the surface, but it also expressed the trust she held in him in other areas; she trusted him to protect her emotionally and not let her fall in that regard either.
Judy found enough energy to open her eyes and look into his as his steps led them closer to their destination. The moonlight that poured in from the window at the end of the hallway made his green eyes glow just enough for her to see the affection they held in them when he looked down at her.
She didn't abandon the much-appreciated eye contact even as he walked into the bedroom and towards the bed. Extended periods of eye contact with anyone was awkward, but when it was just the two of them, neither of them could find anything to be uncomfortable about. It felt like they could have entire conversations with nothing more than their eyes and know exactly what the other needed to say.
To avoid having to set her down, Nick removed one paw from his hold on her so he could pull down the blankets on the bed. Sometimes it amazed him that she was small enough to be held with only one arm. Still, he felt her body tense up just a little from the loss of extra support.
Once a spot was cleared, he gently lowered her to the mattress and began pulling the comforter over her body.
"You tuck me in like I'm a little kit...," she whispered, not wanting to ruin the tender moment by speaking any louder.
"When you act the part, you earn the treatment," he said with a honey-sweet tone that caressed her long ears.
Judy quickly opened her mouth to counter his implication that she acted like a kit, but she paused before the words escaped and replaced them with, "Well, I must be doing something right to get treated this good." While she didn't agree with his last suggestion, she took it in stride knowing that it was just part of the typical teasing they both participated in.
Besides, she couldn't lie to herself. The way Nick cared for her made her feel special in a way that no one else ever had. It never felt like he was faking the adoring acts of kindness or putting on a façade. When he did simple things like tucking her into bed, she could feel that it was done out of love.
When Nick decided that he had done a good job, he leaned down to press a light kiss to her forehead, causing her to close her eyes, her lips turning upwards into a gentle smile.
The fox went around to the other side of the bed and crawled up beside her. The very second his head came to a rest on the pillow, she was at his side and pawing at his arm.
There was no need for her to ask for what she wanted. Nick lifted his arm and let her scoot closer to his torso. She raised her head, waiting for him to complete their sleeping position. He did so by stretching his arm behind her and letting her head lay there instead of on the pillow that his head was on.
Tucking her into bed was a bit redundant considering she never stayed where he laid her down. He couldn't even remember the last time she had slept anywhere other than in his arms. Still, he tucked her in every night even if it was pointless.
After a few minutes of squirming against him to get comfortable, Judy found a good position and let out a sleepy sigh. "Goodnight, Nick."
"G'night, Fluff. Recharge those batteries of yours."
Judy was too tired to roll her eyes at his comment. It was a running joke around the ZPD that Judy ran on batteries because she had seemingly boundless amounts of energy. She only tried her best to prove that to be true when she was at the precinct so that no one could claim she was slacking off on the job. At home with Nick, though, she could let her guard down and stop pretending. There was no need for her to put up any type of a front. With him, she could just... be.
Warm thoughts and the warm body she was curled up against were enough to cause her tired body to begin shutting down. It seemed as though no more than five minutes passed before she was out like a lightbulb.
Nick opened his eyes once more before he joined her in slumber. He needed one last glance at her to reassure himself that she was really there. Sometimes it still felt like a dream when he realized that she returned his love.
As she laid there in his arms, he saw a spark. A spark that set off a raging inferno in his heart just like it always did when he reminded himself that she loved him in the same manner that he loved her.
Some nights, Nick stayed up late into the evening just to watch her sleep. He enjoyed the simple things, like laying there and feeling the gentle rhythm of her heartbeat and watching the occasional twitch of her nose.
One of the most precious things to him, though, was listening to her when she spoke in her sleep. During the few times that he was awake to witness it, it had typically been mumbled nonsense that he couldn't comprehend. It was worth listening to the muttered words to hear the occasional whisper of his name mixed into the mumbles that escaped her. Nick had never mentioned it to her, not wanting to potentially jinx it and never be able to hear her sweet whispers like that again. Instead, he stored those moments in his heart where he could always find them.
As much as he wanted to watch over her all night long, he wasn't fairing much better in the terms of energy. Before he could formulate new thoughts to prevent it, he began to fall away as well.
Nick knew he needed the rest too. Tomorrow was Saturday, their day off, and if he was going to go through with his plan for tomorrow night, it was best that he let his own 'batteries' recharge.
That thought frightened him a little. Tomorrow night was going to be life-changing. Whether it was for the better or worse, he didn't know yet. All he could hope was that she would continue to be by his side regardless of the outcome of it all.
One year ago
"That's the last of it, Fluff."
Judy stacked another box in the corner of the living room as Nick carried a duffle bag through the front door of the apartment.
This entire process made her realize just how little of her belongings she had brought to the city in the first place. All she had to move from her apartment was three boxes, a suitcase, and two duffle bags. Over her time in the city she had accumulated a few more belongings such as clothes and what not, but besides that, she hadn't really made any major purchases.
Nick dropped the bag on the floor behind the sofa and turned his attention to the rabbit who was now facing him from the other side of the couch.
She was nervous. Nick could see it in the way she rubbed her arm with one of her paws, her hind paw sweeping across the carpet in repeated swipes. Every time she tried to look up at him, she would lower her eyes to the floor again.
"You're looking pretty anxious there, Carrots. You okay?"
"Yeah, I just... I..." She tried to meet his eyes, but couldn't. His gaze alone made her heart rate begin to speed up. "Thank... Thank you."
Nick narrowed his eyes out of confusion. "For what?"
"For letting me move in with you so we could be... closer."
"You act like I'm doing you a favor," Nick chuckled, rounding the sofa and plopping down on the cushions. "Asking you to move in was my idea in the first place. I should actually be thanking you."
"I know, but still. I've wanted this... a lot... for a long time. I just never knew how to ask." Judy couldn't find enough courage to lift her head, but the overwhelming desire for contact with him caused her to begin slowly walking towards him as if her body was on autopilot. "So, thank you. For helping me escape my comfort zone."
She held out a paw to him, which he reached out for and grasped onto with one of his own. The union of their paws satisfied a small amount of her desire to reach out and touch him.
Judy didn't expect him to lean forward and wrap his other paw behind her back, causing her to stumble closer to him. When she raised her head out of surprise, she found herself almost nose-to-nose with him. Before she had the opportunity to pull back, Nick reached up and carefully gripped the back of her head and tilted his muzzle to the side.
The bunny audibly gasped when he pressed his lips up against hers. She didn't struggle or try to escape him, because it wasn't an unwelcome action. Instead, she found herself melting into his arms with shaky legs that felt as if they were on the verge of collapsing beneath her.
It certainly wasn't their first kiss, but it still managed to make her weak in the knees and set her limp ears aglow like red Christmas lights. She could even feel the blush in her cheeks when he finally separated from her.
The gentle grip on the back of her head disappeared, and in its place, a single paw continued to tenderly stroke her ears.
"Was that outside of your comfort zone?" he breathed.
The smirk on Nick's muzzle told her that he already knew the answer was "no". Unable to find the words to tell him that, she hastily wrapped her arms around him and let her head rest on his shoulder so she didn't have to look him in the eyes, fervently shaking her head in the negative. She never wanted him to think that she didn't enjoy moments like that.
"I just get nervous sometimes...," she said.
"Why?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close so he could feel the frantic beating of her heart.
"Like I told you, I've never been in a real relationship before, so I'm still trying to figure out what it means to be... us."
A few moments of silence passed between them where they simply held one another, neither of them wanting to separate from the other. Eventually, Nick pulled her away so he could look into her eyes.
"Hey... look at me. Please," he pleaded with her when she lowered her eyes to the ground again, something she commonly did when she felt emotionally exposed. When her eyes cautiously raised back to his, he smiled in an attempt to soothe her. "I want you to know something." The fox lifted a paw to cup her cheek, letting his thumb slowly brush through the silky-smooth fur there. "You don't ever have to feel nervous around me. Ever."
Judy found a small smile of her own crawling onto her lips. She slowly nodded against his paw in understanding, grateful for the way he tried to make her feel comfortable in this new situation.
They'd only been officially "dating" for about three months before Nick brought up the idea of moving in together. Judy hadn't needed time to contemplate the offer. She had actually ended up letting out a light squeal at the idea, earning herself a few days of playful teasing over how enthusiastic she was about the suggestion.
"I want you to know something else," he said, moving both paws to her shoulders. Judy gave him a questioning tilt of her head, prompting him to continue. "Sometimes, I get nervous too."
"Really?" she said. "You... You do?"
He nodded, gently rubbing her arms in an attempt to offer her some comfort. "I'm still trying to understand this just as much as you are. But we'll figure it out. Together. Right?"
Nick leaned in to give her another small peck on the lips. "Now, if you ever tell anyone I said that I'll tell everyone at the office that you have carrot print pajamas that are absolutely adorable."
Judy giggled and reached up to place a paw on his which rested on her arm. "I won't."
"So, what do you say I go set up a nice bath for a certain little bunny so she can relax some of those nerves?"
Judy let out a sad sigh but still offered back a warm smile. She felt a little more at ease now, but she still couldn't get rid of the butterflies she felt in her belly when she looked at him. "As much as I want that, Slick, I can't. I really need to start unpacking some of this stuff. Then, I need to get started on dinner so we can eat and then—"
"Woah woah, where did you get the idea that you had to cook?"
"Oh... I just assumed that since we'll be living together, you'd want me to... You know."
"What? Of course not. You don't have to do any of that," he said. "I'm sure you're amazing at cooking, but let me handle that. I learned a few culinary skills from mama Wilde, so I'm sure I can cook up something that you'll be able to eat."
"Nick, you really shouldn't—"
"No, I'm not having you cook," he said sternly. The fox reached down to Judy's paw that was hanging by her side and gripped it again, bringing it up to hold it between both of his larger ones. "Please," he whispered. "Let me... Let me take care of you."
Judy stared into his eyes for a few moments while the sincerity in his voice melted her heart. "Wow... That's... That's really sweet of you. Are you sure you don't want me to help or—"
"No no, I can handle this. You just go start up that bath and relax."
"But I still have to unpack my things," she said.
"I can do that too," he responded. "Just go. The towels are in the closet."
"There's no way I can expect you to—" Judy stopped talking when he placed a single digit to her lips and shushed her.
"Go. Everything will be put away when you get out, I promise." Nick knew the task wouldn't take long. She didn't really have many belongings here in the city anyway.
Judy sighed. "Fine. But only if I get to cook for you tomorrow night."
Nick chuckled. "Deal."
Judy didn't have enough time to get any more words out before Nick stood up and began ushering her out of the living room and towards the bathroom, reassuring her that everything would be handled by the time she was out of the tub.
Luckily for her, Nick's place had a private bathroom inside his apartment compared to her old place that had a public restroom area and communal showers. She'd always hated that setup, but she hadn't had enough money to move into any place nicer when she first arrived in the city, so she had settled, telling herself that it could be worse. The idea of having clean, private bathroom and shower was definitely a plus of moving in with Nick.
And it was certainly clean. Judy could tell that Nick kept his apartment almost spotless, which was something she hadn't actually anticipated, but still greatly appreciated.
Who would have thought foxes were so tidy?
After the fox instructed her on how to turn on the water, Nick left Judy in the bathroom to unwind and de-stress while he made his way back to the living room to assess the unpacking situation.
He decided to begin with the boxes in the corner of the room, thinking it would be best to get those out of the way first since they were more unpleasant to look at compared to the two duffle bags that all of Judy's clothes were in.
Having to use a kitchen knife to slice through the tape that Judy had placed on the cardboard containers so her things wouldn't fall out while they were moving them, Nick sat down on the floor and opened the flaps of the first box. He peered inside to figure out where everything should go.
The box seemed to contain lots of framed photos. Some he recognized, others he didn't. A few of them looked to be of Judy and her parents back in Bunnyburrow, while the majority were pictures of the two of them together. They showed everything from the selfie they took together on his first day working for the ZPD, to the selfie they took on their first date at the city mall where they shared lunch together.
Knowing he would be here all day if he stared at each of the photos for as long as he wanted to, he began to pile the photos on the floor beside him until he could determine which ones would look best hung up on the walls and which would look good on the shelf by the front door.
Once he neared the bottom of the box, the contents shifted from photographs to folders and files.
Nick had no interest in sifting through all the papers inside those folders. Besides, the contents really weren't any of his business.
Bringing himself to his hind paws, he lifted several of the framed photos off the ground and gathered them into his arms, holding the folders that he pulled from the box under his armpit.
He set off towards the front door where he had intended to begin putting up some of Judy's photos, but he somehow managed to stub one of his toes on the leg of the sofa.
Instantly wincing at the pain that shot through his hind paw, Nick made a split-second decision on what was best to drop and what was best to save. Knowing that if he dropped the photos the glass frames would more than likely shatter, he let the folders under his armpit fall, sending papers scattering across the carpeted floor of the apartment.
Barely dropping to the sofa in time, he landed on the cushions and let the picture frames slide out of his arms and onto the sofa so they wouldn't suffer from falling to the ground.
The fox let out a few hiss-like breaths as he grabbed his hind paw, wishing the pain had a mind of its own to simply vanish into thin air.
It felt like an eternity, but eventually, the pain began to subside and became easier to tolerate.
After refocusing on his surroundings, he checked the frames to make sure none of them cracked or broke when he dumped them on the sofa. He was relieved to see that they were all intact.
He turned his head forward to take in the sight of papers from the spilled folders littering the carpet.
Letting out an exasperated sigh, he got off the sofa and got down on both knees to begin the cleanup. He felt a twinge of pain shoot through his hind paw again when it met the carpet, but it was less noticeable than the initial impact.
The fox took notice of a few familiar documents as he began to collect the papers and stuff them back into each of the folders. A copy of Judy's application to the ZPD first caught his eye, followed by her acceptance letter from the police academy, then what appeared to be a copy of her graduation certificate.
Seeing those papers again brought a small smile to his muzzle. Nick had never really given Judy proper credit for her achievements before he went through the academy and endured the same grueling training that she had pushed herself to go through. It had given him a new perspective on things, and the first time he had been allowed to make a phone call to her from the quietness of the empty lunchroom at the training facility, he had profusely apologized for how he had previously devalued her hard work. Since then, he had never dared to belittle her accomplishments again.
His mind nearly trailed off into a daydream haze until he spotted something else that earned his attention. A wrinkled and creased sheet of yellow notepad paper was among some of the documents that had been thrown from the folder. It wouldn't have been particularly intriguing if it hadn't had her paw-writing all over it.
Still on his knees, he collected the object of interest and stared down at the words that filled the paper.
The two words written at the top of the sheet were Bucket List. He had to hold back a snort of laughter. How could Judy have a bucket list already? Nick was older than her and hadn't even begun to think about all the things he wanted to accomplish during his lifetime. He had some ideas, sure, but nothing on paper yet.
What was even more interesting to him, though, was the fact that she had already accomplished two of the items on the list.
Become a police officer had a big check mark next to it.
Become a REAL police officer had an even bigger checkmark beside it. Nick wondered if Judy had added that item after she'd been assigned the task of parking duty on her first day at the precinct.
Go skydiving lacked the same checkmark that the previous two items had. So did the next several items on the list like Go Scuba Diving and Fly in a hot air balloon.
The list continued for some time, giving Nick a few moments of good reading. Some of the things she wanted to do and accomplish actually intrigued him and gave him some ideas.
Taking a quick look down the hallway, he noticed that the bathroom door was still closed. His ears perked, allowing him to hear the water that was still running.
Feeling secure in the knowledge that Judy wouldn't know, Nick gently folded the paper into a small square and stuffed it into the pocket of his faded black jeans. It didn't feel like stealing because he didn't plan on keeping it forever. He just needed it for now.
With the single paper in his pocket, Nick stood up and casually continued the cleanup until all the documents were back in their folders.
If he was going to get started on dinner, he'd better have Judy's things unpacked soon.
"Put your ears back."
"This is ridiculous."
"Put them back."
Judy rolled her eyes at Nick as he raised his paw to sweep her ears down behind her head again. The pleasant contact to her touch-sensitive ears nearly caused her body to shiver, but she managed to withhold that response in exchange for impatiently tapping her hind paw against the floor.
Nick lifted a beanie up to the rabbit and stretched it over her head until it fit properly. He had never realized how hard putting a hat on Judy could be when she didn't force her ears to comply with his demands for them to lay limp instead of above her head. She seemed to be making it easier for him now, though. He lowered the hat so that it sat just above her eyes, covering as much surface area of her skull as possible. She was going to need it to retain body heat tonight.
"Why won't you tell me where we're going?" she inquired as Nick secured the beanie.
"I did tell you," Nick said, turning around to grab a pair of mittens from the top dresser drawer. "We're going to dinner just like we do every Saturday. But I have a surprise for you before that."
"A surprise that requires getting dressed like we're going to a snowball fight?" Judy asked as Nick approached her with the pair of mittens. She willingly held her paws out to him, knowing he was going to force her to wear them. He had already insisted she wear a hoodie for some reason, so there was no stopping him now.
Every Saturday night, the couple would go out to dinner for a casual date night. With the busyness of their jobs at the ZPD, it was difficult to find time to actually be a couple instead of just partners on the job. While they spent every moment together, the ZPD required that they separate their relationship from their job to avoid "distractions" as Chief Bogo had so graciously explained. That meant no public displays of affection while they were on duty. No holding paws, no kisses, no comments that could come across as flirting, and no obviously affectionate gestures to one another. For Judy, even finding quiet moments away from prying eyes to beg Nick for a hug was difficult because of the constant need to be on alert.
So, the tradition of having a date night every Saturday was born. Even though they came back to the same apartment at the end of every day to hold each other, it was still nice to be able to go out and do something every once and a while as a couple without the fear of the chief reprimanding them.
"Trust me, you'll want the added warmth," he said. "It might get a bit chilly."
Judy hated to admit it to herself, but he was probably right. November was a mixed bag of things in the city. On some days it might just feel like an average fall afternoon, and on other days the sky dumped several inches of snow onto the ground, leaving icicles hanging from every available surface.
"Isn't this all a bit much though?" she asked as Nick slipped the mittens onto her paws. "I mean, I get the hoodie, but the hat and the gloves too?"
Nick only nodded. "Considering how easily you get cold, you're going to need them."
"I don't get cold that often," she said as Nick returned to the dresser to find his own pair of mittens.
"Oh really?" Nick dug through the top drawer for a moment until he could find the mittens. He didn't imagine that he would need them, but he knew it was best to have them just in case. When he did locate them, he began to slide them over his paws as he turned back to her. "So I guess you woke me up at three a.m. last night to ask for my tail as an extra blanket because you wanted something to cuddle with, not because you needed something to keep you warm?"
Judy instantly felt her cheeks starting to get warm. Nick normally covered her legs with his tail when they slept, but at some point throughout the night it had flicked away from her. Even though she still had the blankets on top of her, Judy had become so accustomed to having his tail there that she hadn't truly realized how much warmer it made her, causing her to wake up in search of the heat that it provided. She still felt bad about having to wake him, but her attempts at going back to sleep without it had proved to be futile. Whether that was because of the lack of extra warmth or simply the sense of closeness that was missing when it was gone, she wasn't sure.
"That was because we left the window open last night. It got really cold outside, and it let all the cold air in."
Nick chuckled and shook his head fondly at the doe. "Whatever you say, Fluff." He went towards the closet where he found a hoodie of his own to put on. While he may have not felt that the mittens were necessary, the hoodie definitely was. Knowing where he was taking her, he would be a fool to go out in a t-shirt and jeans.
Judy turned towards the mirror in the bedroom of their apartment and looked herself up and down a few times. "I look like an idiot," she said. Lifting both paws, she attempted to adjust the beanie a bit so it didn't look so low on her head, but there didn't seem to be any plausible way to make it look any better.
She was so focused on trying to readjust the hat that she didn't even realize when he came up behind her. The rabbit only took notice of the fox when two strong arms surrounded her midsection, gently pulling her back into his torso.
"Well, I think you look extremely cute."
The days when Judy would've chastised him for a comment like that were gone. Even though he still used the word to tease her from time to time, most often it was a truthful complement. Usually she could tell the difference when she looked at his expression. The smirk was missing right now and in its place was a genuine smile, so she knew he wasn't teasing. Besides, she had given the fox exclusive rights to the term since he was her boyfriend. If he weren't so, she would probably still tell him off for saying it.
"And very attractive," he practically purred into one of her lowered ears, causing pleasant tingles to travel down her spine.
The bunny felt a familiar blush creep back into her cheeks and ears. His compliment felt a lot more pleasing than she cared to admit. "You're such a sweet talker," she muttered, hoping it would distract her from getting any more flustered by his comment.
"I have to use my smooth talking skills for something. Might as well use them for something meaningful, right?"
Judy giggled and rolled her eyes again.
Nick took the rabbit by the paw and began to lead her out of the bedroom. "Come on, let's go get you fed."
Following his lead, they walked out of their apartment paw in paw. Nick took a moment to lock the front door and then helped her climb into the passenger seat of his white pickup truck. It wasn't a new vehicle by any means, but it ran well and it was clean, so he couldn't complain even if it wasn't the fanciest thing on the road. It was better than having to take the crowded, smelly train throughout the city.
Nick jumped into the driver's seat and put the key in the ignition, letting the engine rumble to life. It didn't take long for him to pull the vehicle away from the curb of their apartment complex and out onto the road.
"So, are you finally going to tell me about this "surprise"?"
"Come on," Judy complained. "You made me go through all the trouble of getting dressed like this, and you still won't tell me?"
"It's called a surprise for a reason," he said. "You're just going to have to wait."
Judy crossed her arms over her chest and let out an exasperated huff. "Can I at least get a hint to tide me over?"
Nick idly tapped his digits against the steering wheel as he drove the truck through the intersection, pretending to contemplate her request. "Hm... It depends. What do I get in exchange?"
Turning her head towards him, a small smile found its way onto Judy's muzzle. She knew exactly how this game worked. "How good is the hint?" she asked, slipping the strap of her seatbelt over her head and putting it behind her.
"It'll tell you everything you can know without ruining the surprise."
She was satisfied with that much. Besides, she didn't want to totally spoil whatever he had planned.
Nick could feel her gaze on him now. He felt his own grin melt across his face as she leaned closer to him.
"Careful now," he said. "I don't think it's legal to make out while I'm driving, officer."
Fortunately, she ignored his comment. He had practically asked for this anyway. She brushed her lips against the side of his muzzle, and he accelerated the truck down the street.
Planting a few kisses on his muzzle, she lowered her paw to his thigh to give herself more stability. At that moment, Nick wasn't sure which was going faster, his pulse or his truck.
They'd been dating for a little over a whole year. Judy was much more confident in showing her affection compared to when she had first moved in with him, and it was very noticeable. He didn't have to initiate goodnight-kisses or paw holding like he'd had to when their relationship was just kicking off. She seemed to be less shy about those small physical forms of showing how much she cared, and now they could safely walk down the sidewalk with their paws intertwined without Judy getting nervous or embarrassed.
"I think I deserve that hint now," she whispered into his ear and gave it a playful tug, leaving a few more kisses on his muzzle.
"All right, all right, you win." The truck continued through the streets until the larger buildings of the city were in the rearview mirror.
A satisfied look came upon her features.
"It'll be cold," he said.
The look of satisfaction instantly faltered and turned into an irritated frown. "That's it?" Nick nodded, looking pleased with himself. "You cheated!" she said.
"No, you asked for a hint, and I gave you one. I told you everything you can know without ruining the surprise."
"That's not fair!" she spouted. "You said it would be a good hint."
"Okay, maybe I cheated a little." He let his paw drop to the one she still held on his thigh and smothered her digits with his own. "One more. But this is the last one, got it?" Judy nodded, leading him to continue. "It's going to be quiet. Maybe even silent."
The rabbit felt more puzzled now than when she had asked in the first place. "I need more information," she said. "Why is it going to be quiet?"
"Sorry, Carrots. I said that was the last one. You're just going to have to wait and find out."
Judy squeezed his thigh, hoping to coax him into talking more.
Nick chuckled a little. "That's not going to get you any more hints."
She squeezed harder.
"It's not happening."
Judy sighed and gave up her attempt at gaining more details from him. "Fine. I'll wait." The rabbit raised the armrest between them and unbuckled her lap belt so she could slide closer to him for just a moment. She allowed her cheek to rest against his shoulder, the small weight of her head leaning into him. It wasn't necessarily legal for her to be unbuckled while the vehicle was in motion, but she desperately needed the contact to nurture her emotional bond with him. Judy was willing to risk getting a ticket to snuggle against him.
Nick twisted his head to the side to kiss the fluffy pom on the top of her beanie before reaching forward to flip on the heater. They were entering Tundratown, meaning the temperature dipped drastically compared to some of the warmer areas of the city. The street lights were fewer and farther spread apart out here, telling him that they were getting close to their destination.
Hoping to set the mood, Nick turned the dial on the radio and changed channels. The song changed from classic rock to a newer, slow pop song.
Neither of them felt interested in speaking much. Enjoying one another's company was soothing enough. It was moments like this that made Judy grateful for her relationship with the fox.
Love had never come easily to her. She'd been so focused on accomplishing the goal of becoming the first rabbit officer that most of her younger years had been spent working towards that goal. That meant she missed out on the typical teenage things, like having a crush or even having a boyfriend.
Judy was sort of glad that she missed out on those things and continued to focus on what was really important. If she had gotten involved with some rabbit back in Bunnyburrow, she probably would've abandoned her dreams. If she had done that, she would've never met Nick. He was the most important thing in her life, and the thought that she might have accidentally missed out on him sometimes made her heart hurt. In fact, some nights she woke up in tears after having nightmares of losing him to someone else. He was always there to help her through the bad dreams, though. He would let her cry on his shoulder all night long even if it meant he would be exhausted the next morning, which was just another reason why she couldn't handle the thought of him with someone else; she knew no one would ever care for her as much as he did.
Judy either dozed off or simply got lost in her head thanks to the relaxing motions of the vehicle. She snapped back into reality when she realized there were no more street lights, and whatever road they were on clearly wasn't paved. She could only presume gravel was beneath the tires of the truck based off of the sound of small pebbles being kicked up into the wheel wells. Taking a glance at the clock on the dashboard, she realized that almost an hour had passed since they'd left the apartment.
"Where are we?" She blinked a few times, lifting her head from his shoulder to take a better look out of the windshield. That didn't mean she moved away from him at all, she stayed as close as physically possible without sitting directly in his lap.
"The outskirts of town," he said as if that were all the explanation that was needed. "It's darker out here. None of the lights from the city will obstruct our view."
"View of what?" she asked, peering out into the darkness. "There's nothing out here." Okay, maybe that wasn't totally true. There was lots of snow on the ground, and a lot of trees. Judy had never been this far into Tundratown, so she was unfamiliar with the area. It was definitely beginning to creep her out, though.
"Hush, no more questions. We're almost there."
Nick rounded a curve in the road which led to a fairly large hill. The road up to the top of said hill clearly wasn't maintained very often if the potholes and bumps were anything to judge it by. Judy didn't know much about vehicles, but if she had to guess, a car would've gotten stuck in the snow by now. His truck seemed to handle the conditions like a champ.
Judy instinctively wriggled closer and pushed herself against him. "It's really dark out here..."
"Relax," he said. "You won't even notice it in a few minutes, you'll be too distracted. And, I brought a flashlight if it makes you feel any better." Nick reached under his seat while keeping one paw on the steering wheel.
Judy watched as Nick pulled a black flashlight from beneath his seat and held it out to her. She studied the object in his paw for a few moments, wondering if accepting it would earn her another round of teasing. Lifting her eyes to his, the caring look in his eyes told her that he took her concern seriously. The bunny took the light from his paw, deciding that even if it did earn her some teasing later, it would at least make this entire situation a little less creepy.
The fox could feel it in the way the rabbit pressed against his side; Judy was on edge. It amazed him how she had willingly become a cop, knowing that she would face some of the most frightening situations known to anyone, yet it was the simple things like thunder and a little darkness that frightened her. Nick had watched her run straight into a gas station robbery without a second thought, but thunderstorms could make her tremble with fear.
The farm girl must have gotten used to all the city lights...
"What, exactly, am I going to be distracted by?" she asked, turning her head towards him again. "You still haven't told me why we're all the way out here."
"I was hoping to hold the surprise out for a little longer," he said with a small smile. "But I guess you've waited long enough."
As he spoke those words, the truck reached the peak of the hill and everything on the other side became visible. "Is that a good enough distraction?" Nick pointed forward, leading her to follow his gesture.
Judy gasped at the sight outside of the windshield and clutched at his hoodie. "Are those... Are those what I think they are?"
Nick looked down just in time to see her eyes light up, and what looked like the biggest smile he'd ever seen spread across her face. The only time he'd seen one bigger was on the night they confessed their feelings for one another.
The fox nodded, his own smile growing exponentially larger. "The northern lights," he said as the truck continued over the hill. "It was worth the wait, right?"
Judy bobbed her head, unable to contain her excitement as she focused on the sky outside and the colors that hung in the air with the stars. The high-pitched squeal that escaped her throat was adorable to him, but it also let him know that he'd done the right thing.
He pulled off to the side of the road and parked the truck on the other side of the hill. Killing the ignition, the headlights of the vehicle went dark and the engine went silent. Nick didn't even have time to say anything before she threw her door open and hopped out of her seat to the snowy ground below.
He slid out of his seat and met her at the front of the truck where she was practically bouncing on her hind paws. Judy still hadn't abandoned the flashlight, but she apparently hadn't felt the need to turn it on. It didn't matter to him, because if it offered her some comfort, he was perfectly fine with her carrying it around all night.
Nick lifted his eyes to the sky, unable to hold back his own interest in the natural phenomenon occurring just above them.
The bright stars were a sight to behold on their own. The obnoxious streetlights from the city typically polluted the sky with light and made them hard to see, but out here the stars were free to come out of hiding. That wasn't what he brought her out here for, though. He brought her to see the lights that danced above them like phantoms in the night.
"They're beautiful...," she whispered, shuffling closer to him so she could bury herself against his side. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, finding himself in need of the contact now.
Nick did his best to hide the fact that he was shaking. His breathing felt unsteady, and he felt like he was going to pass out. All he could pray for was the strength to avoid fainting. There was some urge to hide from her that he couldn't explain, but he needed to push through. His brain told him to pant to cool himself off because even in the below freezing temperatures, he felt like he was in an oven. Somehow, he found enough willpower to prevent himself from doing just that, but if he was capable of sweating, he'd be drenched by now.
Judy didn't even notice the condition of the fox beside her. The majestic sight above her was occupying all of her available attention. Even the ice-cold air that nipped at her nose wasn't enough to make her take her eyes off of the ghostly sway of green and purple lights that swam in the night sky.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said. "I didn't even know we could see the lights from here." Not even back in BunnyBurrow had she seen such an amazing thing. Her mom and dad had always said they lived too far south to ever be able to see the auroras, so she had never tried to hunt for them.
"Neither did I," Nick said. "But I heard about it on the radio the other day. They say you might not be able to see them from the city again for the next hundred years."
"Wow... So this is really special then," she said, earning a small nod from the fox. "I've always wanted to see them..."
"Oh, I know you have."
"What? You knew?" She took her eyes off of the sky to turn to him.
Not wanting to remove his arm from around her body, Nick used his other arm to reach into the pouch of his hoodie where he pulled out a piece of folded paper. "Does this look familiar?" he asked, holding it out to her.
Judy set the flashlight on the hood of the truck and pulled the paper from his paw. She unfolded it cautiously, unsure of what she would find written on the inside. The last thing she expected to see was the words Bucket List.
Become a police officer
Become a REAL police officer
Go sky diving
Go scuba diving
Fly in a hot air balloon
Go to a beach
See the New Year's Eve ball drop in Zootopia
Own a home
See the northern lights
There were several more items on the list, and it seemed like it went on and on. Judy recognized the paper. She'd made it out of pure boredom one night while Nick was at the academy. The lonely nights had been hard on her, and calling him every day wasn't an option since he was only allowed a small number of phone calls. That had left her with a lot of unoccupied time on her paws, and sitting in bed crying because she missed him had gotten old. Fast. It had gotten so bad that she went to work some mornings with red, puffy eyes because of how badly she wished to hear his voice, even if only for a few seconds. The rabbit had been forced to be creative during those months to find things to occupy her mind so she didn't jump on a train to the academy just to be near him.
"Where did you find this?" she asked curiously.
"It was in one of your boxes on the day you moved into my place," he explained. "I hadn't meant to go looking through your things, but it sort of... slipped out."
"Huh. I thought I threw this away," she said. "There are so many things I need to add to it..."
"Well, I figured we could get started with the lights," he said, turning his head back towards the sky and taking in a deep breath. "You've got big dreams there, Fluff."
After a few moments of taking in the kind gesture, she began to feel those warm feelings for him again. "This was really sweet of you," she said. "Taking me all the way out here, keeping it a surprise..."
Nick brushed off her comment. "It's not really a big deal," he said, not wanting to be praised for it. He didn't do it for the praise, he did it to make her happy. That's all he'd ever wanted to do. "I've wanted to see them for a long time too, so I guess we both got something out of it."
"Nick, I'm serious." Judy stuffed the paper into her pocket and reached for his paw, pulling it to her chest. "It means a lot to me that you did all this."
The fox's heart felt like it was going to beat straight out of his ribcage. If he was going to pass out, it was going to happen any second now, so he knew he needed to tell her.
No time like the present.
Another breath. Another heartbeat. "You know, you should probably check this off of your list now," he said to the doe.
Judy wanted to express her gratitude. She wanted him to acknowledge what he did for her. But he clearly wasn't interested in talking about it, and she didn't want to push him. She'd learned that forcing him to talk only got him to clam up. "Yeah...," she said, reaching back into her pocket and pulling the slip of paper out. "Do you have a pen?"
"Hm? Oh, right." The fox reached into his pocket and produced a cheap ballpoint pen which he handed to the rabbit. He'd kept the pen in his pocket for this very purpose. It was all going according to plan.
Judy scribbled a quick check mark beside the words See the northern lights. It felt good to check that off. She had never actually thought she would get the chance to see them, but she was glad she got to experience them with her fox by her side.
Nick took in one final breath. He felt like collapsing right then and there. He felt like breaking down. "And... While you're at it..." His words came out breathy and almost frantic. Judy lifted her head out of concern for him and found a look on his face that she'd never seen before. He looked... scared? But at the same time, he looked hopeful. "You might want to check this one off too," he said.
Judy watched as the fox's mitten covered paw traveled to the paper. She finally noticed that he was shaking. Trembling, even.
Get married were the final two words that he pointed to on the bottom of the paper.
Judy paused out of confusion. "But I haven't gotten married?" she said.
Nick searched his vocal cords for every last ounce of slyness that he could put into his words when he said, "Not yet."
It felt like he had to force his muscles to move his leg when he dropped down to one knee. A few seconds passed when it felt like everything went in slow motion. He couldn't force his paw to move to the pocket of his hoodie any faster. It was as if his arm was made of the same weights he trained with at the police academy.
When he finally managed to dig the small box out of his pocket, he started speaking again.
"Two years ago, I was going through one of the darkest times in my life," he said, unable to stop his voice from beginning to break. "I spent my days cheating and scamming and doing everything I could just to get by. But out of nowhere, I met this beautiful, amazing rabbit. She was strong. She was kind. And she was so, so bright. She helped me get my life together, and she made an honest fox out of me. And for the first time, a million colors flashed through that sky of darkness that I was living under. And it was all because of you. You were all of those colors in the sky."
Judy slowly brought both of her paws to her muzzle as she stared at the fox in front of her. Her heart began to speed up and her throat started to tighten. Tears began to blur her vision, and she prayed she would have enough clarity left in her eyes to see this all the way through.
Is this the moment? She asked herself. Is this really, finally it?!
"If the only other meaningful thing I do in my life is make your dreams come true, I will have lived the best life anyone could ask for... So..." Nick flipped open the box and stared up into her watery eyes. With his own heart thumping against his ribcage, he said the words that he'd been wanting to say for so long. "Judith Laverne Hopps, will you continue to be those colors in my sky... and marry me?"
The silence was just as deafening as he had thought it would be when he had pictured this moment in his head. He could hear both his own and the doe's breathing. He wasn't sure if it was just his imagination playing tricks on him, but he was almost positive he could hear her heart too.
The tears in her eyes made it easier to see the lights that swayed in the sky just above their heads. Those green and purple rays still didn't compare to her violet eyes that bounced between him and the box in his paw.
There was a fleeting moment where he believed maybe he'd gotten it wrong. Maybe he'd read her all wrong. Maybe his worst nightmare was about to come true with a heart-piercing "no."
"No" never came. As the first tear finally spilled from her eyes, she threw herself at him and tackled him to the ground, sending them both into the cold snow that blanketed the area for as far as the eye could see.
He nearly lost hold of the box when he hit the ground. Luckily he kept it in his grasp as she fell on top of him and stared down into his eyes. For the first time, the look of pure joy and happiness on her face became apparent to him. Her smile was beaming, and it was the most precious thing he'd ever seen.
The only thing more precious was the whispered "yes" that she spoke as her tears began to fall to his face.
"Yes," she repeated. "Of course I'll marry you! This is all I've ever wanted!" Judy brought her lips down onto those of the fox beneath her as her tears continued to roll down her cheeks.
Time ceased to exist in that moment. Together, the couple shared the most passionate, breathtaking kiss they had ever shared with each other. Several gasps for air later, Judy finally separated herself from him and breathed out another "Yes!"
Nick felt tears of his own forming in his eyes. He hated to weep in front of her, but he didn't really have a choice this time. The happiness he felt seemed to override any control he had left over his emotions. He had promised himself he wasn't going to cry like a fool, but there he was with tears pouring from his eyes as he removed the ring from the box, letting the container fall into the snow.
Judy held her paw out to him and he grabbed onto it, slowly sliding the ring onto her tiny finger. He had been worried that it might not fit properly. His worries had been for naught because it fit perfectly.
The rabbit got a good look at the ring for the first time, having to sniffle a few times and rub at her eyes to clear her vision. It was a gorgeous emerald-cut diamond ring with a split band encrusted with diamonds. She hadn't ever taken the time to think about what a proposal ring should look like, but she knew that this was the best one out there. It was the best because it was from him.
Nick had collected himself by the time Judy looked back down at him, but she had already seen his tears. She thought about teasing him about it, but now wasn't the time to ruin the moment. She'd wait until they were back on the road to mention it.
"I love you...," she whispered as another tear fell. "I love you so, so much..."
"I love you too...," he said, lifting his paws to wipe away her tears with his thumbs.
Together, the fox and the bunny laid in the snow with the aurora borealis dancing in the night above them. It was as if those lights were putting on a show for them, and only them.
Nick felt complete, and his heart was full. Even though the snow was cold, he allowed her to lay right where she was as she let her head fall to his chest so she could look back up to the inky-black sky that was filled with the most beautiful of colors. He wrapped both arms around her and made a silent promise to himself that he'd never let her go.
Judy knew she had just been given the opportunity of a lifetime. She couldn't even count how many dreams she'd had of meeting him at the altar and surrendering her body, mind, and soul to him, only to wake up and realize it was just that. A dream. Now, all those dreams that made her desperate for that moment would become a reality. That thought alone almost brought tears back to her eyes in full force, but she did her best to blink them away every time they threatened to spill out.
Both of them had different thoughts running through their minds, but at the same time, they both knew one thing: their journey together through the adventure that mammals called life was just beginning.
To the reader:
This story was inspired by the true story of Alex DeLeon, better known as the artist "Bohnes," and his now fiancée Josephine Skriver. The couple got engaged under the northern lights after moving in together only about a year earlier. Seeing the aurora borealis had been on Skriver's bucket list for some time, which was the reason Alex chose to take her out to see the auroras where he decided to propose to her.
Alex DeLeon (Bohnes) also wrote the song "Aurora Borealis" which was a love song to Skriver. That song was a large influence to this story, so if you feel inclined to do so, take a listen to that song to get a feel for what that night underneath the auroras might have been like.
Hi, all! This is only the second story I've ever posted publicly, so please feel free to tell me where I can improve. I need constructive criticism to learn to improve as a writer. As I mentioned in my last story, I'm not claiming to be an excellent writer, I'm just trying to put my work out there so I can get better. The only way I'll ever improve is by receiving feedback on areas I could have done something differently, so constructive criticism is welcome.
EDIT - APRIL 17, 2019: I just wanted to mention that I've decided to remove my first story titled "Stay: A Zootopia Short" due to the many typos and formatting errors I located shortly after posting. I want to be able to be proud of the work I post, and unfortunately, that story didn't hold up to the standards that I personally set for myself. If you're still interested in that story, the fixed version is available on my DeviantArt where I go by the same pen name OutcastAuthors.